Housing Trust, Selectmen Back Property Purchase For Habitat Home

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Orleans news , Affordable housing

Architect Rick Fenuccio shared ideas with the affordable housing trust board and affordable housing committee last week regarding options for the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank operations center property on West Road. Ed Maroney Photo

ORLEANS With the agreement of the board of selectmen, the town's new affordable housing trust will fund the purchase of a half-acre lot on which Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod will build a two-bedroom ranch home.

Voting separately May 1, the board and trust took an initial step toward creating 85 new rental units and 15 home ownership opportunities within the decade, a goal proposed in the recent town housing needs survey.

“It appears this would be a ideal site for a Habitat home,” Habitat land acquisition and permitting manager Beth Wade told the trust board. She said the .54 acre property at 15 Quanset Rd. “supports by right a two-bedroom ranch,” which “for us is a relatively easy build.” The negotiated purchase price of $200,000 “is well in keeping with the value of the property,” she added.

Habitat homes are built with a combination of donations, grants, loans, sweat equity by the intended owners, and volunteer labor. “Our intent is to use this lot as infill to some other projects we have,” Wade said. “There's 14 homes (across the Cape) currently in various points of feasibility. Some are really difficult with regard to permitting, and we expect some gaps (in our construction schedule). There's a very good chance if we finish up on the Brewster Paul Hush project, there may be a down time and we can get right in and do it.”

On average, however, it takes three to four years to build a Habitat house after a property is identified, according to Wade. “We will do everything we can to get this built,” she said, “but we're asking for flexibility around when. I expect the house there within the period I mentioned, but it could be a little bit sooner.”

Wade said state housing development regulations do not allow more than 70 percent of any “build” to offer a local preference option, which means Orleans residents would not have that advantage in this case. She said Habitat would pay taxes on the property for the next fiscal year and then likely seek an abatement after securing a deed restriction keeping it affordable in perpetuity. “That lessens the value of the property,” she said.

“We are breaking new ground,” trust board member Ward Ghory noted, and suggested that a report of the trust's finances was in order. Trust chair Alan McClennen said the latest monthly figures show cash assets of $677,830.92. Favorable votes at the May 13 town meeting could almost double that amount.

Trustee Alexis Mathison, a leading voice among the town's younger residents for affordable housing, made the motion to recommend that the selectmen approve the funds for the property acquisition. Hours later, her father, selectmen vice chairman Mark Mathison, recused himself as his colleagues approved the plan without dissent.

In its joint meeting with the affordable housing committee May 1, the trust board took a preliminary look at housing options for the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank operations center on West Road, which the bank is leaving for a new HQ in Barnstable. Architect Rick Fenuccio of Yarmouthport's Brown Lindquist Fenuccio & Raber presented six options ranging from 40 to 56 rental units broken into one-, two- and three-bedroom options plus “micro units” or studios. Each plan retains the 38,000-square-foot operations center building, which would be renovated.

Option A adds a 16,500-square foot building on the northwest corner for a total of 40 units and would have more parking than required. “It preserves a lot of the existing parking and site infrastructure,” Fenuccio said. “It pulls the buildings away from each other, and parking bifurcates the site.”

Option B moves the new building south so it's immediately to the west of the operations center, with which it shares a courtyard. Parking, which meets requirements, is concentrated just north of the housing.

With 40 units overall, this is the first option to include some “micro units,” which Fenuccio described as “old school studio units. The state will require some congregate housing. You would concentrate these more in the existing building and provide some common living space, that extra space beyond your walls.”

Ghory wondered how the units would compare to a college dorm. Larger by two-and-a-half times, the architect assured him.

Option C, which connects the existing and new building directly (the latter goes up to 20,400 square feet), allows up to 50 units “without pushing additional parking into green spaces,” said Fenuccio. But that number would require 86 parking spaces instead of the 75 the plan provides. “Unless we nibble into open space, we're short on parking,” the architect said.

Option D, for 40 units, replaces the new building to the left of the operations center with a field and playground and moves the additional housing to the northeast corner, scattering three four-unit townhouses ranging from 3,900 to 5,000 square feet around community gardens. “The site is not so large that the buildings are disconnected,” Fenuccio said. “It still reads like one community.” Parking meets requirements.

Option E “starts to push the envelope,” said Fenuccio. All the units in the previous option are retained, and two new buildings are tucked into the southwest corner, plus parking, next to the operations center, for a total of 50 units. “There's a loss of other amenities on the site,” he said. “It's more unit-heavy. There are pockets of green space that can be woven in nicely, (but) we don't have a passive recreation field.” Eighty-five parking spaces are required, and that's exactly what this scheme provides.

Finally, Option F “busts it out,” said Fenuccio, with 56 units and a building of 16,500 square feet west of and connected to the operations center. With 95 spaces required and 75 provided, “this is highly deficient on the parking side, but we wanted to show it,” he said. “We think this one tips the scale. Would the zoning board ever grant relief for 20 parking spaces? I've never been involved in a project that got that kind of relief.”

The affordable housing committee and the town's director of planning and community development, George Meservey, will review the options and provide comments by the beginning of June.

“Overall,” said committee chair Katie Wibby, “this is exactly what we asked for: both ends of the envelope, and letting us land in the middle.”